Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Jessica Who Cried Wolf
Is there a moment where every mother looks at her kid and realizes that she’s blown it? That despite the fact that things seemed to be going well for all these years, she is now confronted with a set of circumstances that are born so completely out of the essence of her parenting style, and create a situation so intertwined with the fabric of her being that, at this point, there’s no real way to change things. The only way to make it all better would be to scrap the whole project and start again with a fresh, new kid.
If such a moment exists, I had mine last Thursday.
While cleaning out my office, I came upon a fancy, glossy, tantalizing brochure I’d received in the mail about outdoor summer adventures for teens. I don’t know how I got this brochure in the first place, but before throwing it away, I passed it along to my teenager to take a look at.
The company offered expeditions for 8th through 12th graders, domestically and abroad, all expensive, all death-defying. Every kid in the brochure looked like he was having the time of his life.
My son never pays attention to anything I give him, so I was surprised when, 15 minutes later, he came back to me with the brochure folded back to page 29.
“This is the one I want to go on,” he said, thrusting a four-color glossy of smiling teens and snow-capped mountains into my face. “I want to climb the Matterhorn.”
“No way,” I said.
“Why? It’s one of their trips.”
“You could get Altitude Sickness.”
By this time my younger son had joined us and they both stared at me wide-eyed. And then they started to laugh.
“Altitude Sickness!” said one of them. “That’s a good one, Mom.”
“Are you telling me you’ve never heard of Altitude Sickness?” I said.
“I’m sure you, like, die from it, right?” said the other one.
They were laughing and mocking me as if it were the most ludicrous thing I’d ever suggested. They wouldn’t even follow me to the computer, where I could show them how it’s impossible to tell beforehand who will be susceptible to the illness, how some people do die.
Slowly, like waking from a dream, I began to see the trajectory. The mother who ushers her children into the house during wind, who terrorizes them with the possibility of falling trees, who rips spoons of raw cake batter from their hands and lectures about salmonella, e. coli and botulism is the mother who lands right where I stood on Thursday: in front of children who consider her every concern an overreaction. Children who think she’s made up a malady called Altitude Sickness right out of thin air.
Children who will no doubt make it their life’s work to prove her wrong.